Anglican Notables – Cecil Frances Alexander (Musicians, Authors, & Poets) – 12 October

[This is a series of biographical sketches of Anglican men and women whose lives have been exemplary in virtue and/or have made significant contributions to Anglicanism’s expression of the Gospel.  Written from the perspective of full communion with the See of St. Peter, including such papal statements as St. John Paul II’s encyclical on ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint, this series will occasionally acknowledge differences between Anglicans and Catholics where they exist and will do so in a spirit of charity and respect.  However, the intent is to focus less on differences than on opportunities for mutual enrichment between the Anglican and Catholic traditions and on shared spiritual treasures that already unite us.]

Cecil Frances Alexander

(1818 – 12 October 1895)

Few Christians, I suspect, know the name Cecil Frances Alexander, but nearly every Christian in the West knows her hymn texts “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” “Once in Royal David’s City,” and “There is a Green Hill Far Away.”

Alexander was of an Anglo-Irish family and was raised, in religion, as a member of the Church of Ireland.  She married a Church of Ireland clergyman, William Alexander, who was later consecrated Bishop of Derry and Archbishop of Armagh.  But one moving fact from her life is that even though sectarian divisions in Ireland were intense during her lifetime (as, alas, they still are), she ministered to both Catholics and Protestants who suffered from the Potato Famine.

I do not know what Alexander’s churchmanship was during her childhood.  But her poetry, which had already garnered recognition and praise by her twenties, was influenced first by the High Church Walter Hook, Dean of Chichester and then by the Oxford Movement, especially through John Keble, who edited her _Songs for Little Children_.[1]

In addition to Alexander’s labors to alleviate the immense suffering caused by the Potato Famine, she was “indefatigable” in visiting and ministering to the poor and needy.  Funds from her first publication helped build the Derry and Raphoe Diocesan Institution for the Deaf and Dumb. Profits from _Hymns for Little Children_ were also donated to this school. She was involved with the Derry Home for Fallen Women and worked to develop a district nurses service.[2]

[In addition to the photo of Alexander, the second image is that of the window by James Powell and Sons in Alexander’s memory, installed in St. Columb’s Cathedral, Derry, Northern Ireland in 1913.]

Follow this link for a video on the two-hundredth anniversary of Alexander’s birth.

Brother John-Bede Pauley, O.S.B.


[1] https://allpoetry.com/Cecil-Frances-Alexander – accessed 10 October 2020.

[2] https://www.poemhunter.com/cecil-frances-alexander/biography/ – accessed 10 October 2020.

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